Busy Bodies versus Happy Imbibers

In a recent ten second video clip shot in Harare, a couple is seen strolling across a busy street.  On his back, the man carries a baby wrapped in a towel.  A male voice is heard derisively shouting, ‘mudhara wakadyiswa!’ (Old man, you were served the love portion).  Now across the street, the woman lifts up a clenched fist in triumph.  She and her partner walk on.

 If you want to witness the distribution of tasks by gender in Southern Africa, attend a funeral wake.

You will see women, some with strapped babies on their backs take down curtains, clear the sitting room, bring in the mattresses, cook on open fires, serve mourners, wash up and comfort the directly bereaved throughout the night. 

At the same time, men sit in circles and engage in heated discussions on football and politics.  Occasionally, they pause to greet the latest arrival.  For seconds, with solemn faces, they slowly shake their heads to express humanity’s helplessness in the face of death, spread out their hands and mutter, ‘asazi,’ (we don’t know).  As soon as the latest arrival sits down, they resume their lively discussion.  To show respect for the departed, the new comer holds himself back for ten seconds before jumping into the discussion.

To be fair to the stronger sex, four of them actually work.  The first navigates his way to the bottle store to buy alcohol.  The second acts as master of ceremonies during prayers and the third delivers the word.  Finally, the fourth wrestles with the complicated task of announcing funeral arrangements. 

Having performed these tasks, men feel they have earned the right to rest.  For the rest of the night, they sit around a bonfire and regale each other with a variety of stories.  Those with a rural upbringing relive their hunting adventures.  City slickers tell tales about old gang wars and memorable football matches.  Generous amounts of beer and hot stuff loosen tongues and the stories keep flowing.

In short, at funeral wakes women are busy bodies whilst men are happy imbibers.    

‘None but ourselves can set us free,’ Bob Marley said.  Is it not time we modified this gender division of labour? 

In the past men had to sit out of the hut to protect the body of the deceased from hyenas and other predators.  This threat is no more.  Why then continue a practice that has outlived its original purpose?  I suggest we delve into our glorious past, pull out an old work arrangement that worked, brush it up and modernize it for today’s situation.

In Bantu culture, people of the same gender and a certain range of ages were placed in one group – intanga.  Each intanga was responsible for specific tasks.  This included herding livestock, slaughtering and skinning animals, fetching firewood and water, cooking and together performed certain rituals and ceremonies.  Over the years, members of each intanga were expected to perform together their evolving tasks.  Society viewed each intanga as a unit.

In this age of increasing gender convergence, the age group work arrangement could be brought back, minus the emphasis on gender.  In other words, various age groups regardless of gender would carry out identical tasks. 

For instance, at funeral wakes, arrangements could be as follows: men and women between 20 and 30 would receive mourners, pitch up tents, chop firewood, collect plates and wash up; those between 31 and 45 would make fires, prepare the main mourning room, cook and serve; those between 46 and 60 would comfort the directly bereaved, arrange prayer session, and make announcements; the 61 and above would give guidance on tradition and oversee all proceedings.

Eating will be for all ages and both genders.  Regardless of gender all the 46 and above may drink. 

Overlaps in performing the tasks would be inevitable but as noted, the 61 and above would fine tune the system and ensure things run smoothly.  Each intanga would be held responsible for its failures and be given credit for its successes.  For ease of reference we will call this system the Age Method of Task Allocation (AMTA).

Some couples in the Diaspora are already practising a form of AMTA.  In his well researched paper – Gendering the Diaspora: Zimbabwean migrants in Britain, Dr Dominic Pasura suggests that changed job opportunities have forced couples to review the way they allocate domestic duties.  Comparing the circumstances of the situations between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, Patricia, an interviewee in Pasura’s study notes:

The main difference is that my husband helps me to cook and does most of the shopping.   I do not think if we were in Zimbabwe he would do the same for two reasons.  Firstly, it is most likely that we would have a housemaid.  Secondly, peer pressure would dissuade him from doing housework.  This has not affected our families negatively because we both work and there is no way I can be expected to do everything without his assistance, therefore it is {…} positive for our family.  

Back to Southern Africa, why wait for circumstances to force us adopt a more productive and humane way of allocating domestic duties?  Sons and Daughters of Africa, let us take the initiative and adapt AMTA, a progressive way of doing things.

Full marks for the video clip man who understands AMTA and practices it.  He carries their baby on his back, walks in public with his partner and though provoked, does not stoop low to wrestle with a pig in the mud.  He and his wife belong to the same intanga and therefore share the same tasks.  As for the woman, her triumphant salute is as important as that of Winnie Mandela when she and her husband walked side by side out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison.  She knows they are doing the right thing and that the long road ahead is tough.

Dear reader, what are you doing to assist this progressive couple and its kind?  

5 thoughts on “Busy Bodies versus Happy Imbibers

  1. The reallocation of tasks must start in the home by allocation of tasks equitably between husband and wife and among the kids. By the time we get to funerals it will have become accepted practice. It is hard to change culture suddenly but bit by small bit it can be done. I have seen men do the cooking of pap in big pots at funerals and weddings because physically it would just be too demanding for the fairer sex. Equally I would be uncomfortable seeing ladies tying down a beast for slaughter while the more muscularly endowed men look on. I agree that women often get the short end of the stick. The changes ought to happen at the individual household level as in the case of Patricia that you cite. We need to free the men from thinking it is dishonourable to do domestic chores. I do them. I wouldn’t let my wife or daughter change a flat tyre while I am there except if it just to train them. Great stuff

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    1. Thank you for the well thought out comments. I agree that the allocation of tasks is best introduced at home. The funeral wake scene is good for discussion purposes because most people are familiar with it. For instance, you cited a funeral wake scene different from all I narrated.
      I let my wife fix doors because she enjoys it and I don’t!

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  2. I totally agree with Mr Sibanda.
    However in my day ( 50’s and 60’s) growing up eNqameni it was indeed the men who did the cooking for funerals and weddings. I was shocked post independence when I attended a funeral in Bulawayo and thina omalukazana were expected to cook and serve the bereaved while men sat down and talked. It’s not like they had slaughtered any beast and cut firewood.
    I was fortunate enough to have been married to a man who shared chores with me not shying away from cooking,cleaning and taking care of his girls. It made me love and respect him more.
    I would like to add that watching fathers, husbands and sons sitting under trees discussing dead Nkomo politics and soccer teams that don’t always do that well erodes our respect for our men. It will take only one man to break that no so good habit. Women deserve better. Even in everyday life. It just gets old to be watching our men constantly discuss and argue topics that never result in any tangible solutions to problems at hand while we women serve them mazoe and beer, sitshwala and nyama.
    Thank you Mr. Mthimkhulu for these thought provoking topics. Keep them coming. We as a people will get there.
    P.S. It was so refreshing to see that man with his child on his back.

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  3. What we see at funerals as discussed by Mzana is just the manifestation or symptoms of something far deeper which is the underlying cause, namely, the prevailing patriarchal attitudes common society. Unless those are tackled head-on, we are likely to be stuck with symptomatic responses. In my view, patriarchy is best dealt with at the individual household level first. The guy who was carrying the baby on his back clearly has dealt with certain aspects of it. When I saw the video, initially I failed to see what the fuss was about. I have carried my babies the same way.

    I have brought up my children to know that boys and girls are equal but different. My son is the best male cook I know other than professional chefs, for example. Household chores are shared by all. There are no tasks that require brute force like cutting firewood. So if my son were to be reserved for those, then he would never earn his keep while the sisters did all the work.

    If we all dealt with patriarchy at the domestic household level, the situation would be changed by the time we get to funerals. Culture takes time to change. Task allocation was mainly done by the men and of course they tended to choose the least demanding ones for themselves.

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